Award nomination information will be posted Fall 2024. This includes information on the MSNA Hero Awards and the SNA Employee, Manager, and Director of the Year Awards.

Meet Your 2024 Award Winners!

Minnesota’s Director of the Year
Julie Kronabetter, Food and Nutrition Services Director, Burnsville Eagan Savage ISD 191

MSNA is proud to announce that Julie Kronabetter, Food and Nutrition Services Director for Burnsville Eagan Savage ISD 191, has been named Minnesota Director of the Year. The award recognizes the extraordinary contributions of school nutrition directors who manage effective school meal programs providing healthy and appetizing meals to students. 

Julie Kronabetter has been with the district for more than 10 years, effectively directing multiple USDA food and nutrition programs with the goal to increase student meal participation. She has alway maintained a positive fund balance for the department and is cautious with spending, researching and evaluating purchases to be fiscally responsible with funds. Kronabetter is knowledgeable of federal programs and the multitude of regulations to follow.

Efforts to increase the cultural diversity of the nutrition team have been successful under her leadership. She worked with human resources and other departments to minimize language barriers to the application process and recruited individuals whose primary language is not English. The nutrition team now provides translation earbuds to employees and uses interpreters for interviews, training and staff evaluations. These efforts have led to increased recruitment and staff retention. Kronabetter also set up a bonus program for new employee referrals and provides monetary stipends to bilingual employees who are willing to assist with training others and interpreting.

In the past year, Kronabetter has been working to increase ethnic menu options at the high school by using local food brokers and researching recipes. Some of the new entrées on menus include Whole-grain Beef Sambusas, Chicken Tikka Masala, Tajin Pineapple and Bean and Cheese Pupusasare.

As a military veteran and retired officer of the armed forces, Kronabetter values selfless service and believes everyone should share their strengths to best serve the organizations they belong to.

Under Kronabetter’s guidance, the Burnsville Eagan Savage ISD 191 nutrition department has received over a million dollars in local, state and federal grants. These funds have been used in a variety of ways, from offering fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to elementary students and purchasing new equipment to providing staff incentives for recruitment and retention efforts.

Julie Kronabetter’s efforts have positively impacted the students in the district, helping to expand access for them to benefit from healthy school meals. She is an innovative leader for the nutrition team and contributes greatly to her colleagues through her service for the state association,” said MSNA President Michele Hawkinson.

Kronabetter is an active MSNA member and currently serves as the organization’s Nutrition Chair. She has served as MSNA’s Annual Conference chair and co-chair and held numerous volunteer roles. The School Nutrition Directors of Minnesota recently selected her to attend School Nutrition Association’s Legislative Action Conference in Washington, D.C. where she met with representatives from Minnesota’s Congressional delegation. 

Kronabetter was recognized on May 3, 2024, as part of national School Lunch Hero Day and will also be honored when MSNA members meet for their Annual Conference in Saint Cloud in August.

Minnesota’s Manager of the Year
Sandra Hirdler, Manager at Brooklyn Middle STEAM School

SNA has named Sandra Hirdler, Nutrition Manager for Brooklyn Middle STEAM School in Osseo Area Schools ISD 279 in Minnesota, the Midwest region Manager of the Year. The award recognizes the dedication, ingenuity and compassion shown by cafeteria managers who have excelled in providing high-quality, nutritious meals to students throughout the school year.

Sandra Hirdler is dedicated to serving students high quality, healthy meals that are both nutritious and delicious, whether grab-and-go salads and sandwiches or colorful fruits and vegetables beautifully arranged. She works tirelessly to get to know each student by name and learn about them to better gauge what they like to eat and help lunch line behavior.

Hirdler’s efforts and kindness reach beyond the cafeteria. She stepped up to help a new family in the school community obtain warm clothes and generously donates to organized food drives to assist families during school breaks.She also takes extra efforts to coordinate with food vendors for the school’s annual multicultural fair, plating and arranging the food for all to enjoy, and managing staff and volunteers for the special event.

Empowering her staff and coordinating team building initiatives are integral to Hirdler’s effective leadership. She organizes staff-wide programs including arts and crafts projects and encourages conversations to find common ground amongst staff. Hirdler strongly advocates for cooperation between co-workers so they can work as a cohesive team when problems arise.

Sandra is a strong leader, empowering her team and encouraging them to ask questions and share their input,” said Chris Derico, SNS, School Nutrition Association President. “She is dedicated to her student customers and focused on supporting the whole student.”

Hirdler oversees the local SNA chapter annual fundraiser and gives a presentation on the benefits of SNA membership at the start of each school year. She patiently explains pay incentives associated with each SNA level and brings knowledge gained from SNA events back to school to improve kitchen and cafeteria operations.

The Manager of the Year Award is given in honor of Louise Sublette, a leader in school nutrition in her state and the national School Nutrition Association. During her 43 years in the profession, Sublette worked in many areas of food service—public schools, colleges, hospitals and elderly feeding programs. Sublette dedicated her career to honoring school nutrition professionals and ensuring those who work in school cafeterias have access to professional development opportunities, empowering them to help their school meal programs flourish. 

Hirdler was announced as the Midwest region Manager of the Year during an online awards ceremony on April 30 in advance of School Lunch Hero Day, celebrated on May 3, 2024, to honor all of America’s dedicated school nutrition professionals. The accomplishments of Hirdler and all SNA award winners will also be highlighted in a special digital publication and promoted in SNA's annual Hero Day social media campaign on and

Minnesota’s Employee of the Year
Melissa Willhite, Tracy Area Schools

SNA has named Melissa Willhite, of Tracy Elementary School in Tracy, Minnesota, the Midwest region Employee of the Year. The award recognizes the valuable contribution of school nutrition employees who exhibit a remarkable commitment to both their school meal program and the students they serve.

Melissa Willhite is described as someone who leads by example and goes above and beyond to ensure students and staff know the food on their trays is made with love. She will do whatever task is needed to get the job done and does so with a smile and positive attitude. Willhite is a great communicator and liaison between students and staff. She works to make meals appealing and speaks with students to get their feedback on new menu items and determine adjustments that might be needed.

She takes great care in managing the backpack program for students in need, putting food in their lockers on Friday so they have healthy food to enjoy through the weekend. Willhite is the eyes and ears working to promote the school’s food service program on Facebook, including posts on job openings and daily menu items.

Willhite will do whatever job there is and helps everyone out, especially when the kitchen is short staffed. She teaches staff about portion sizing and what makes up a reimbursable school meal, making sure that all staff understand what is expected and how to serve students the right amount each and every time.

Melissa is a model employee who is dedicated to her students and fellow staff members,” said Chris Derico, SNS, School Nutrition Association President. “She is welcoming to new staff and works right beside them until they are comfortable, always available to those with questions or needing extra guidance.”

Professional development is important to Willhite. She frequently attends SNA webinars to learn what is new with the organization and has attended every state association conference for the last 10 years. Willhite brings that knowledge back to the kitchen to share with fellow employees.

The Employee of the Year Award was created to recognize outstanding school nutrition employees who influence the quality of school meals through customer service, an interest in young people, cooperation, work attendance, creativity, participation in professional development and their willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty. 

Willhite was announced as the Midwest region Employee of the Year during an online awards ceremony on April 30 in advance of School Lunch Hero Day, celebrated on May 3, 2024, to honor all of America’s dedicated school nutrition professionals. The accomplishments of Willhite and all SNA award winners will also be highlighted in a special digital publication and promoted in SNA's annual Hero Day social media campaign on and


MSNA Hero Award Winners


MSNA Hero Award
Pat Tasse, Child Nutrition Manager, Five Hawks Elementary

MSNA has named Pat Tasse, Child Nutrition Manager for Five Hawks Elementary School in the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District, its 2024 Hero Award winner.  The award recognizes an individual who goes above and beyond daily at their job.

Pat Tasse goes out of her way to develop relationships with the students and support the school community with an upbeat attitude and willingness to go above and beyond. She makes the lunchroom an inviting place to visit, with seasonal decorations and a smiling collaborative staff.  She makes sure meals served to the students for breakfast and lunch are both nutritious and appealing.

When Tasse noticed not all students were taking vegetables from the school’s garden bar, she wanted to engage them in the growing process. She secured funding to bring a hydroponics tower to the school and now works with fourth and fifth graders weekly to tend the lettuce. She takes extra time out of an already busy day to help the students prune the plants and take care of them, testing to ensure enough nutrients for growth. The students then clean and help prepare the towers for the next batch of seeds once the lettuce is harvested to be served in the cafeteria’s garden bar. Tasse is dedicated to enhancing the educational experience within the cafeteria and instills in students valuable knowledge about healthy eating and sustainable food practices.

Pat Tasse is known for contributing with a positive attitude and for going the extra mile to volunteer on programs that bring valuable nutrition education opportunities to students,” said MSNA President Michele Hawkinson.

Pat Tasse was presented the award on May 3, 2024, as part of the national School Lunch Hero Day and will also be honored when MSNA members meet for their Annual Conference in Saint Cloud in August.


MSNA Hero Site Award
Alexandria Area High School, including Assistant Kitchen Managers Emily Short, Renee Feiler, and Marie Linow

The non-profit Minnesota School Nutrition Association (MSNA) has named the Alexandria Public Schools’ nutrition staff at Alexandria Area High School its 2024 Hero Site Award Winner. The award recognizes excellence in teamwork, creativity and customer service.

Renee Feiler, Marie Linow and Emily Short make up the Assistant Kitchen Manager team at Alexandria Area High School. The three are described as a talented and cohesive team who respect each other greatly and share a passion for creating amazing dishes. They each have huge hearts in caring for their students.

The team finds a way to laugh daily and has created a harmonious work environment, taking on daily roles and extra needs with can-do attitudes. They are always looking for ways to make more fresh menu options for students. Feiler, Linow and Short regularly take time to test new scratch-made recipes with students. Creating new meal options is not in their job description, but they consistently go above and beyond through their high level of work integrity.

With fresh garden bars including 8-9 different daily options, the team has started to incorporate unused raw vegetables into the next day’s menus as roasted vegetables or other options on the lunch line. All three are nutrition educators who serve on extracurricular committees through the year to support recipe development, employee retention and creating promotions.

“Feiler, Linow and Short are proactive in their efforts and show strong leadership skills, inspiring others to take on new challenges and collaborations. They are known to create a positive vibe in their kitchen, encouraging hard work and efficiency with lots of laughter and respect for one another,” said MSNA President Michele Hawkinson.

Renee Feiler, Marie Linow and Emily Short will be recognized by MSNA on May 3, 2024, as part of the national School Lunch Hero Day.  They will also be honored when MSNA members meet for their Annual Conference in Saint Cloud in August.

About the MSNA Awards

  • MSNA Hero Award: Recognizes an individual that goes above and beyond each day at their job. This award is for individuals and they must be nominated by any staff member within the school district. Self-nominations are not accepted. The nominated member must be a SNA/MSNA member and a school nutrition employee. Directors are not eligible for this award. Multiple candidates may be nominated from each district.
  • MSNA Hero Site Award: Showcases EXCELLENCE in Teamwork, Creativity and Customer Service. Going the “Extra Mile” is a part of the team’s goals to bring their best service to the forefront. Any team of two or more may apply for this award. They must be a member of SNA/MSNA and must be employed by a school nutrition program. Application must originate and be submitted by the kitchen team.

About the SNA Awards

The SNA Awards program highlights the outstanding and important work of SNA members and state affiliates. Members and state associations are eligible for a variety of honors that recognize their achievements in school foodservice, leadership, membership recruitment and professional development.

There are SNA awards to recognize every member type:

Employee of the Year Award
Manager of the Year Award, in honor of Louise Sublette
Director of the Year Award
National Industry Member of the Year Award

If you have any questions regarding awards process, please contact Members Service Chair, Loriann Landowski, [email protected]